June 1st, 2010
03:16 AM ET
Editor's Note: Harry Knox is Director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program and is a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
By Harry Knox, Special to CNN
Last week, the House of Representatives and a Senate committee both took historic steps forward in protecting the liberty and equality of all Americans, by moving to repeal the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibits lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving openly in our nation’s military.
This policy has seen thousands of dedicated service members discharged simply because of who they are, costing our nation millions of dollars and many highly-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - including hundreds with critical language skills desperately needed in our ongoing fight against terrorism around the world.
But some right-wing groups, notably the Family Research Council, see the desire of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve our nation openly and honestly not as a commitment to sacrifice everything for the liberty of all Americans, but rather as a threat to the liberties of some. They claim that those whose faith traditions disapprove of homosexuality will no longer be able to serve as military chaplains if we permit open service.
Never mind that for the life of a nation grounded in religious pluralism, our military and its chaplains have served on behalf of the freedom of all Americans, including those who follow a faith that any individual chaplain might consider blasphemous.
Chaplains are fully aware of their duty to all who they counsel. Writing in support of a letter from dozens of religious organizations calling for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” - including the Episcopal Church, the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church - Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain noted that:
But the Family Research Council and their ilk do not truly believe in protecting the liberty of all Americans, as our dedicated service members, gay and straight, do. They instead are seeking to rewrite history - and the core tenets of our Constitutional freedoms - in order to lead new generations back to the bad old days of repression of individual liberties.
They claim to be the voice of religion while ignoring that a growing number of congregations and denominations see discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as anathema to their core belief that God calls on us to love one another and to practice justice.
In reality, this isn’t about chaplains at all. Groups like the Family Research Council continue to characterize religious liberty and equality for LGBT Americans as an either/or proposition, willfully misrepresenting our nation’s historical experience and ignoring the realities of a nation of many faiths and beliefs that has dealt with such questions for centuries.
Such groups have claimed that federal hate crimes laws will silence preachers, ignoring those laws’ robust protections for free speech and religious expression, as well as the experience in the many states with such protections already in place.
Those groups suggest that federal employment discrimination protections will burden religious employers and co-workers, but belittle a robust religious exemption that has served the interests of religious groups under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for nearly four decades.
They claim marriage equality will force them to support an idea of marriage contrary to their beliefs, yet ignore when state after state adopts language to guarantee that no church or religious leader need recognize or celebrate such marriages, as well as the long history of religious groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, setting their own rules on marriage.
With “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal within sight, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans will soon be able to serve our nation, and protect our liberties, without being forced to lie.
Those who would call that commitment to America a threat to our core values are beyond cynical. Groups like the Family Research Council, screaming for preservation of their privilege to discriminate, are not defending liberty. They instead seek to impose their particular brand of religion on all of us by making it the law of the land.
That is not the America we know and love, and for which many Americans, gay and straight, have fought and died.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Harry Knox.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.